Gambling addiction symptoms

Outlining the symptoms you might experience if you're struggling with a gambling addiction.

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This page was reviewed by Stephanie Chick, senior addictions therapist in Priory Hospital North London, in July 2020.

What is a gambling addiction?

Gambling addiction is a type of impulse-control disorder where you have little or no control over your urge to gamble, even when you're aware that your actions can hurt yourself and others and even when the odds are against you. The need to gamble will escalate, developing into riskier bets, gambling with more money and gambling more frequently.

A gambling addiction is characterised by the continuous urge to gamble, despite the negative impacts it can have. Problem gambling can cause difficulties in relationships and at work, while the cost of funding it can become a huge financial burden. If you're in need of gambling help you may find that even when you win large sums of money, the winnings will be used to fund more bets until they run out. Recently, gaming websites have made gambling even more accessible, creating issues for problem gamblers who can gamble at all hours of the day and night.

The thrill is linked to risk taking, which induces a natural high. The effect of this altered psychological state is similar to that of stimulant drugs. In the same way that a drug addict becomes preoccupied by their habit, so too does the gambling addict.

Dr Paul McLaren, Priory Hospital Hayes Grove

Gambling addiction symptoms

Gambling addiction may be caused by underlying stress linked to a difficult time in your life, whether this is related to work, relationships or financial issues. It can also be the result of someone having an addictive personality, prone to compulsive behaviour.

There are also fundamental emotional reasons which can contribute to the development and vicious cycle of compulsive gambling, including:

  • Overcoming social isolation by visiting betting shops or casinos
  • To feel a rush of adrenaline and dopamine as a ‘happy’ brain chemical release
  • Numb, unpleasant feelings and problems which cannot be easily resolved
  • Boredom and a desire to pass the time
  • Relax and unwind after a stressful day

While these emotional factors may contribute to a gambling addiction, the following may be more visible signs of a gambling problem in either yourself or someone you care about:

  • Loss of control and being unable to manage impulsive urges to gamble, even when the odds are against you
  • Problems within the workplace, which could include an increased workload, absence from work or general lack of concentration, which makes it difficult to complete tasks sufficiently
  • A preoccupation with gambling and loss of interest in other hobbies or responsibilities
  • Increasing the quantities gambled to recoup lost bets or to experience the same thrill
  • A negative impact upon relationships with those closest to you
  • Concealing the amount of money and time spent betting from family members
  • Stealing money in order to gamble
  • Denial that you have a problem
  • You may also suffer from physical symptoms. These symptoms include anxiety, irritability, headaches, stomach upsets and stress-related symptoms

Free addiction assessment

We recognise that reaching out for help can be daunting. That’s why we offer a free addiction assessment with a Priory expert at your nearest Priory hospital. Call our dedicated team today to arrange an assessment.

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How to help a gambling addict

Because a gambling addiction can affect relationships and become a huge cause of concern for immediate family and friends, observing the common signs of gambling addiction as early as possible can be important.

While gambling addiction is also referred to as a ‘hidden illness’ in that the visible symptoms are not as apparent as those in a person with drug or alcohol addictions, there are some signs of gambling addiction you can look out for. You may notice someone has become more irritated, angry or on edge. You may also notice their mental health change and they feel more anxious, depressed or suffer from a sleep disorder such as insomnia.

If you suspect someone has a gambling addiction, there are some things you can do:

How to start the conversation

Make sure that any conversation you have is in private and that everyone is calm and safe. Staging an intervention may seem daunting at first, but it's important to let someone know that you think they're gambling too much and that it's affecting those closest to them. Also, make them aware of how much you care about them.

During the conversation, focus on the fact that gambling is the problem – not them – and try to remain non-judgemental.

Explain what you’ve noticed

When you're talking about what you’ve noticed, explain why the behaviour worries you and how you feel. Are they always short of money? Do they no longer take part in activities? Are they seemingly more stressed than they used to be?

Listen to them talk

Make sure you listen to them. If they aren’t ready to talk, ask them to at least think about their behaviour. You could offer them information about where they can get help – Priory has a free initial assessment with an experienced therapist for gambling addiction.

Treating a gambling problem

Understanding that you need help is the first step. Talking to someone and understanding what gambling addiction treatment options are available is the next stage. Trying to understand why the addiction developed, and what other stresses or problems you may be trying to avoid is key. This can be explored through individual, or group therapy, and may involve getting help from professionals or joining a self-help group such as GamCare or Gamblers Anonymous; these groups offer local, telephone and online help.

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